The notion that all classic literature is out-of-touch stories written by old (or dead) straight, white men, is one I’ve heard with increasing frequency. It’s usually in conjunction with the assertion that modern literature is more diverse and inclusive than classic literature, and therefore classics are no longer necessary or valuable to read.

Admittedly, this was something that I used to believe.

I’ve talked before about my feeling on how prevalent this line of thinking is, and how detrimental I feel it is to the sheer number of diverse classics that actually exist. To condense: diverse classics exist. They are still important, and much of the problem in the lack of knowledge on diverse classics rests in how classics are taught and which ones are taught, not because they simply don’t exist.

I think this is important to understand, because when we erase the existence of diverse classics, of the stories written by and about marginalized people and people outside of the Western experience, we are (even if unintentionally) erasing those voices by asserting they were never speaking in the first place. It is as important as uplifting and reading diverse literature today.

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A Quiet Reflection on Girls of Paper and Fire | Belated #Pride Talk

I think one of the pleasures of reading YA as an adult is being able to see your younger self in a book and know that even if you didn’t get to experience that as a teen, there are teens reading those books now that get to have the experience of seeing themselves in mainstream literature.

Instead of disappearing, she makes me feel reappeared. Reimagined. Her touch shapes me, draws out the boldness that had been hiding in my core.

Girls of Paper and Fire was an apt book to read during Pride month. I’ve been out (on the internet, at least) since 2013. I’ve been out officially to my whole family for a year and some well-earned change. I’ve always, to an extent, understood my attraction to girls and boys, and as my understanding of gender and sexuality clicked into place and expanded, I came to realize that my attractions didn’t rely on specifics from either. I knew this, but before I came out I always just assumed my attractions were just the symptom of being a straight girl that was super comfortable with her sexuality. (Despite several same-sex encounters that should have told me otherwise, but I clung very hard to the idea of being ‘normal’ and ‘normal’ meant that I was straight, no matter how many girl friends I’d kissed or whose hands I liked holding.)

As a kid and teen, I didn’t read books with queer girls. This is not to say that no books with queer girls existed in the late 90’s and early 2000’s; I just wasn’t reading them. There’s no blame to place there; the people buying my books probably didn’t consider that I would be interested, and I was definitely not brave enough as a child to ask, let alone consider they were even a thing to begin with.

Reading about Lei and her budding attractions resonated with me in a way that I didn’t expect. I knew going into the book that this featured a sapphic romance, but it didn’t lessen the connection I made between Lei realizing her interest in Wren was more than admiration. I remember being that girl, the one that was enamored with the way other girls looked, the way they spoke, how fucking mesmerizing they were and how close I wanted to be to them. I remember when it settled in my core that I didn’t just admire other girls, that I didn’t just think other girls were merely pretty because hello I have eyes and girls are just pretty, but that I actually wanted to be with other girls in the same way I wanted to be with boys. I realized almost coldly that I was different and definitely not the ‘normal’ I had been told I should be, and that was terrifying.

She looks so astonishing it’s almost unreal, as though she’d slipped out of a painting perfectly formed, a thing of beauty, of art—of bright, vivid life in this cold, still place.

I don’t know if reading queer lit during this time would have made me feel braver, or would have made me come out earlier. I do think it would have made me see, sooner, that the way I felt about girls was normal, as normal as wanting boys, as normal as loving boys. I think it would have made me see it as acceptable. Natural. I can still feel the sick, overtly horrified anxiety when I sat down with my grandmother and told her not only did I like girls, but I was dating two (polyamory for the win.) I still occasionally feel the fear I did when my father outright asked me if I was dating a girl before I’d intended on coming out to him, because no matter how much you know your parents love you, being queer is enough for some for forget that you exist, to deny that they’ve raised you, to refuse to accept that you are the way that you are because it’s abnormal and wrong.

My father and I, and my grandmother and I, still have the strongest relationship I could ask for out of the people that did the most to raise me. A lot of young queer folk don’t have that; I’m still eternally thankful.

I don’t know if books like this would have made any of that easier. What I do know, is that teens in 2019 are reading this book and seeing themselves, and maybe it’s making things easier for them. Maybe it’s showing them that in the face of uncertainty, and before a world of people that tell them they’re wrong, that they see they’re worthy and deserving of acceptance and love, and that’s enough for this tired, quarter-century queer.

Review | Girls of Paper and Fire

It’s the highest honor they could hope for… and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

I’ve added this to my mental list of books that I wish I had had when I was a teenager and the actual demographic for YA novels, because holy shit.

Where to begin? I think I’ll start with the fact that I loved this book as a slow burn (in terms of both plot and in terms of romance, but we’ll get to that,) heavily focused on character as opposed to plot. When it comes to the kind of subject matter that Girls of Paper and Fire tackles–a very dominating patriarchy, class imbalances, sexual exploitation, abuse, and rape–I think that it’s good that, for a decent chunk of the book, this was less focused on an epic, sweeping fantasy plot, and more on Lei, her experiences with her world, and her discovery of there being more going on in the Hidden Palace than just her duty as a Paper Girl. 

Let’s get into it.

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Review | The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze, the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

If there’s ever a book that combines phenomenal world building, poignant character development and characters, and untouchable commentary that spans systems of oppression, racism, power imbalances, and climate decline, it’s The Fifth Season. N.K. Jeminisin is a veritable powerhouse of a writer. Her prose is as tight and beautiful as her story is mesmerizing.

It’s gritty. It’s dark. But in terms of how well a fantasy can take something that is truly as dark as systematic oppression and slavery and adequately handle its complexities and nuances, that grittiness and darkness is every bit earned and used to its fullest potential. Parts of this book made me put it down, because for as unique and utterly alien the world of the Stillness is, it is so harrowingly real that it’s hard not to react viscerally when reading. This wasn’t to The Fifth Season’s detriment; I think the point was to react, and to react deeply.

Let’s get into it.

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Mid-Year Review

Six months have come and gone, meaning we’re halfway through the year and I’m mildly panicking about being behind on my Goodreads challenge by about six books.

Did I say panicking? I meant I’m definitely on top of and in control of my reading promises.

On the plus side, no matter how behind I am, I’ve read some amazing books so far this year, so grab a snack because this post is long.

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